For more than a century, the U.S. Postal Service has delivered mail to the islands of Lake Winnipesaukee. For the past 50 years, that job has fallen to the Sophie C., a 74-foot motor boat, docked off Weir’s Beach.
It’s the oldest floating mail service in the country, delivering about 27,000 pieces of mail every summer.
In the first of our summer series, “Surrounded: Stories from New Hampshire’s Islands,” NHPR’s Paige Sutherland reports on how this ship has become a part of life for the islanders.
The Sophie C. sits at a pier at Weir’s Beach bearing the U.S. Postal Services’ soaring eagle on its starboard side. As the red, white and blue vessel revs up to begin the morning mail run, postmaster Annie Nix finishes sorting the mail - something she’s done every summer for 18 years. But for Nix, this is more than just a job.
“I have a log cabin on Bear Island and my family has been residents of Bear Island since the late 1800’s,” Nix says.
Nix is now 64 and has never missed a summer on the lake. She’s watched the island families grow up and knows most by first and last names. She even gets dinner with some of them during off hours.
“Sophie is the Island boat – everybody likes to see Sophie," Nix said. "When you were a young child, even on the Southern end of Bear Island, we would watch her go by when she was doing her mail service and she would always toot to the island people. And it was like – you could tell the time of day when you’re on the island when Sophie went past.”
Sophie was built specifically for the lake in 1945 in Boston. She’s named after the owner’s wife – Sophie Caroline. Every day expect Sundays – she visits eight islands on Winnipesaukee. And each island has a different feel.
As Nix ties up to the dock at Three Mile Island – a shirtless Bob Armstrong comes to greet her. He’s 69 and has been going to this camp since he was a kid.
“We come up this particular week because many of our friends that we got to know when we were four and came to camp every summer are still coming here and we now all know each other’s kids – we’ve watched each other get cancer, get divorced and re-married," he says with a chuckle.
Approaching the next stop, Nix grabs three large bags. They’re full of packages, mostly from Amazon for the kids at the YMCA summer camp - Camp Lawrence.
The person in charge of lugging all these up to the cabins is camp manager – Bruce Corsetti.
“Howdy Bruce,” Annie says. “How you doing?,” he asks. “I’ve been out in the sun too long – being marooned on an island – you go crazy,” Bruce says laughing.
Bruce has a tradition – he sports a different outfit each time he comes and picks up the mail.
“Well I wear – a pink shirt with rabbits, I got hot chili peppers all over my shorts and I’m wearing a chef’s hat on a hot sunny day. You never know what I am going to stroll down to the dock with," he says with a deep laugh.
Then it’s off to Birch Island.
As the boat pulls up, islanders mingle as they wait for their mail. Sally Small has been coming to Birch Island for 68 years. Back in the day – there was enough mail for two daily boat routes.
“When I was a kid 10 o’clock mail boat, then we could play, had to go home for lunch, had to take a nap after lunch then we could meet back up for 3 o’clock mail boat then play again so we lived by the mail boat," Small said.
She remembers performing improvised skits for the mail boat as it passed by. This year’s theme is “The Hunger Games.”
“In the end someone always ends up in the water. But it’s fun – I think the thing that’s nice about it is it shows people a little slice of our lifestyle on the island – we are all crazy," she said laughing.
After all the mail is delivered, the Sophie C. is off…but not without a traditional island sendoff. The kids climb up onto these tall pillars and jump off into the boat’s wake. Annie remembers seeing their parents doing the same thing years ago.
As the clock approaches half past three, it’s time for Sophie’s last stop of the day – Jolly Island.
Micheala Curluy and her husband Michael are on the dock waiting to get some ice cream for their son – Barry. Micheala remembers many summers with the mail boat growing up.
“When I was in 8th grade – I got a love letter," she recalls, as her husband reacts with a, "wait, what?" "Yeah not from Michael," she says laughing. "But it was the coolest thing ever.”
With Annie Nix’s unique postal route done for the day, the Sophie C. heads back to Weirs Beach. But there will be more deliveries the next day, and for as long as its summer on the lake.